On starting with friendship

Josh Weed’s post about being a gay Mormon married to a woman has been making the rounds, and I assume most of our readers will have seen it already. Yesterday Alan Jacobs posted a comment on Noah Millman’s take on the piece, which I thought was good fodder for further conversation:

Noah, you write, “The radicalism of modern Western marriage is the assertion that these feelings [of passion] should have something to do with marriage – indeed, should have primacy over the far more traditional bases of marriage, namely property and eugenics.” I think you’re leaving out the other possibilities that are key to the story. It’s not just passion on the one side and property and eugenics on the other. What this story is pointing to is the possibility of personally chosen, not arranged, marriages built around a kind of regard for one another that is not primarily erotic, in the narrower sense. Here the key word is “intimacy.” These people married each other because they loved each other and wanted to share deep intimacy, but that intimacy was not characterized primarily by sexual passion. And yet the couple insists that they have a strong sexual relationship. The really interesting thing about the story has nothing to do with homosexuality, but with the possibility that our society has the logic of attraction all backwards: we start with sexual desire and hope to generate other forms of intimacy from that, but this model suggests that it could make more sense to start with the kind of intimacy that is more like friendship than anything else, and to trust that sexual satisfaction will arise from that.

I don’t think this is a new idea, but it feels new. When we read Jane Austen novels we think that the attraction between the protagonist and her beau had to have been primarily sexual but the topic just couldn’t be broached in those prudish days, but what if that’s just our narrowly sexual cultural formation talking? Maybe we need to think more seriously about the Weed family as a model for others — and not just for people who, as we Christians often say, “struggle with same-sex attraction.”

I agree with Alan on this point, though I think a measure of caution is in order as well. I’m friends with a few folks in “mixed-orientation marriages,” as they’re often called, and those friends would be the last people to suggest that their choices should be construed as “the answer” for gay Christians in general. I don’t think anyone here (Weed, Millman, Jacobs) is saying they should be, but lest their point be misconstrued…

4 thoughts on “On starting with friendship

  1. I was fascinated by Mr. Weed’s testimony, which reinforces the limits or uselessness of the sexual identity framework to account for the complex and mysterious reality of intimacy, love, and passion. It doesn’t really make sense for Mr. Weed to call himself “gay” if that terms bundles his sexual desires and deeds into a social identity. He’s just a man who has some degree of same-sex attraction and orientation but not deep enough or decisive enough to prevent him from being in a healthy and happy relationship to the opposite sex.

  2. I’ll say the same thing I’ve said to pro-gay folk who say, “Well, he’s obviously really just bisexual, so it doesn’t tell us anything”: When fielding questions over at the Gawker he described himself as a Kinsey 6 or 5.5 (though the Kinsey scale actually refers to experience, and he says he has never been with a man, but still, we know what he means), so I would be hesitant to dismiss the depth and strength of his same-sex orientation. Doing so ends up dismissing his own story about himself, and assuming that someone else knows what’s really going on with him; rather presumptuous, don’t you think?

    • Joshua: I’m not dismissing “the depth and strength of [Mr. Weed’s] same-sex orientation.” Instead, I’m questioning the usefulness of sexual identity to account for the complexity and mystery of human intimacy, passion, and love.

  3. I think it depends what you mean by “account for.” Does it tell you everything about a person? No. Might it even lead you to make some incorrect assumptions? Perhaps. But, that can be said of all words, all labels, etc etc. And yet, there is this double standard it seems whereby this objection is raised for “gay” or sexual identity…but then not for other attributions. Sexual identity tells you SOMETHING. It is not a meaningless construct. Just like someone telling you they are “American” tells you SOMETHING significant. Does it mean they wear cowboy hats and blue jeans? Not necessarily. But it at least places someone within a conceptual ball-park, within which you can then situation them in your mind as more or less typical, etc. Labels are necessarily reductionist, but that doesn’t mean they imply a reductionist philosophy; their use is a concession to the limitations of language. But limitations don’t make constructs useless.

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